All of my three kids have been active in sports. Gareth, now 19, played basketball the most, but also enjoyed a couple of years of lacrosse back in the day. He’s still ready for pickup basketball games, but it’s not a daily physical outlet as it was when he was younger. Ashley, now 23, enjoyed basketball but really loved volleyball, playing it on her school team for many years through middle and high school. And now my youngest, K-, has had a similar trajectory with both basketball and volleyball. It’s volleyball that she loves more, however.
I’ve talked to a lot of girls into volleyball and the story I hear again and again is that the 1-on-1 physicality of basketball was a turn-off and that they prefer having that net between them and the other team. In a lot of ways, the net really lets players focus on their own team and interaction, knowing that once the ball’s on their side of the court, they fail or succeed based on their teamwork and communication. I totally understand this perspective; I played a lot of basketball as a kid and really disliked the in-your-face players who were using the game as a channel for their feelings of aggression or to prove they were tougher than you.
There are two worlds when it comes to high school volleyball; school and club. Just about every high school has a volleyball team or two. It requires relatively inexpensive gear, can be played indoors or out, and is fun for even beginning players, not just those at the top of their game. The school volleyball season can be weirdly short, however, often no more than 8-10 weeks total.
Enter club volleyball. There are thousands of clubs comprising tens of thousands of volleyball players and enthusiasts. Generally those not serious about the game don’t join up as club can be expensive (a few thousand for a 3-4 month season is probably typical). There are definitely some girls in the leagues who are pretty serious about the game too, dreaming of college volleyball scholarships. No surprise, their parents can get pretty caught up in that dream too, particularly if it’s one of the few ways they can afford to have their child head off to college, but generally it’s remarkable that parents are enthusiastic and relatively low key fans.
Here’s what’s amazing: There are tournaments just about every single weekend. In the last month, we’ve participated in a two day tournament in Superior, a three-day extravaganza in Greeley and, just last weekend, a one-day tourney in Colorado Springs. If you look at a map you’ll see that’s pretty darn spread out. Us club parents are pretty dedicated, driving hither and yon often pre-dawn and sometimes in pretty inclement weather. Indeed, here’s what the weather looked like on the way to the Colorado Springs tournament:
There’s generally a very nice sense of camaraderie both with the families in a given club and across the league. We all get to these places early and sit around waiting for games to start. There are often complex round-robin schedules in play too, so a given team could be playing for an hour, helping referee for the next, playing again, then having an hour off before their third game of the day. All before noon!
When it’s really far away, I like to get a hotel room the night before and that’s just what we did for the Colorado Springs game: Driving for almost two hours pre-dawn during what was predicted to be a snow storm did not sound at all appealing. We parents have a group text chat so I shared our hotel plans and next thing I knew, five more families were booked. The evening prior to the game, we grabbed dinner together at the local Panera, then all the girls somehow ended up in our room, watching a dumb horror film on TV and giggling the whole while. Great fun!
The venues can be interesting too, range from cheesy, outdated high schools to beautiful, professional level venues. In Greeley, for example, we played in a massive space that doubles as an exhibition hall, but was prepped and set up with pro-level gear:
I chatted with one of the guys disassembling the court after the tournament finished up and learned that those orange and blue floor mats — those are the colors of the Denver Broncos NFL team, not a coincidence! — cost $10,000/court! At that price you certainly hope that they have longevity, but the surface itself was great, just a bit bouncy, way better than the concrete floor underneath.
Are there jerky parents who are too obsessed with that dangling carrot of a college scholarship and therefore coaching from the sidelines all game long? Yes. Are they annoying to their almost always embarrassed daughters and the rest of us parents? Yes. But surprisingly they’re few and most of the parent crowd are there to have fun and enjoy watching their children play. When the girls managing the scorecard get it wrong, however, parents can get upset, yelling “score! score!” but so far, it works itself out with only sporadic grumbling about bad calls from the officials. Like every sport, right?
What I also like about club volleyball is that there’s a huge amount of participation from dads, not just moms. Some sports, particularly girls sports, tend to be ignored by fathers so that the crowd tends to be almost all moms. As a dad I’ve become sensitized to this over the years, and looking around the stands at a volleyball tourney and seeing tons of dads, siblings, grandparents, even entire families cheering is hugely heartening. Dads need to step it up with their daughter’s sports, needless to say, but not with volleyball. That we’ve got covered!
Here’s what’s really fun about club volleyball: being able to watch your child grow and improve at the game while she’s making friends and having fun doing something healthy and physical, something that doesn’t involve a smartphone or other screen. They can’t always win and so get to learn from their mistakes and failures, but almost every team, win or lose, seems to be having a lot of fun at these tournaments. Overall, it’s just a terrific way to spend weekends and I’m going to really miss this when my youngest matriculates to her next thing or heads off into her adult life in a few years.
If you have a middle school or high school girl (or boy! They have boys leagues and co-ed leagues too), I encourage you to check out volleyball, both through a school league and through club volleyball. USA Volleyball, the official organization behind club, school, college and olympic teams in the United States, has a good club finder utility on its Web site you can check out to start: usavolleyball.org